In an attempt to deconstruct the negative portrayal of black men within the media and the stigma attached to them in public, curator and photographer Cephas Williams started a campaign called 56 Black Men.
The overall presentation of black males in the media is oftentimes distorted. They are regularly over-represented as perpetrators of violent crime which are likely to reinforce stereotypes, making it harder to identify with black males. Black masculinity is often equated with hyper-masculinity, criminality and hyper-sexuality.
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It’s about getting people with the lives experience and people that have grown up black speaking about themselves. Check out this interview of @cephaswilliams speaking to @skysarahjane and Gambele of @skynews about 56 Black Men. #56BlackMen / Search 56 Black Men on YouTube
Cephas is now trying to change perceptions of black men through the use of photography. His campaign aims to challenge these views and make visible the individuals underneath.
He said, “So much damage has been caused because we have been shoehorned into an identity that does not reflect our full reality.”
“I am a black man with a degree in architecture, and I find I am not taken seriously when I walk into a room full of strangers.”
Due to these negative preconceptions and unconscious bias that are held, people are quick to judge and stereotype him.
Cephas Williams, 28, is an entrepreneur from New Cross, south-east London. He is the founder of Drummer Boy Studios which he reformed and redesigned with his team in order to create a multipurpose space for the community. Despite his intentions to bring a change to his community, he did not receive the welcoming support he was hoping for and was
constantly challenged by the authorities.
2018 has been recorded as the fourth worst year for knife deaths amongst young people, media outlets have been dominated with negative headlines. The mainstream media were able to use this as a gateway to fuel negative stereotypes against black men. Cephas’ frustration of seeing this led him to create a platform that puts a light on black men who are doing great things but are never heard or spotlighted.
He mentioned that if we’re constantly feeding into media headlines and images of violence that seeks to devalue the imagery of how a black male should be perceived, then how is that going to help change the trajectory or the options for young black boys who are looking at the media and seeing themselves in a negative light all the time.
He wants black males, to see a reflection of themselves for who they truly are when they look in the mirror and not what the media depicts or what society has falsely painted them out to be.
Cephas uses social media as a platform, to present the purpose of his campaign. It features individual pictures of 56 black men in hoodies.
“I am not my Stereotype”
These men are motivational speakers, politicians, directors, court clerk, teachers – all of them have positive life stories that are irrelevant to the attire they choose to wear. These men aren’t dangerous or threatening instead are striving to make a positive contribution to society. But the media very rarely tells those positive stories, so the campaign serves as a reminder that for every black man you see represented doing something negative, there are 56 others that aren’t.
An article written by the TCS Network on this campaign discussed how this is generally the opposite of what society has been conditioned to expect of a black man and in some cases even influences how many black men view themselves and their ability.
The tagline of the photography series reads, “I am not my stereotype” and takes what Cephas identifies to be the “cliché image of a black man wearing a hoody,” as they are often profiled because of what they wear.
Wearing a hoody has been politicised and demonised that in parts of the UK, the item of clothing has reportedly been banned in public spaces to curb “anti-social behaviour”.
Cephas said the quote “You don’t have to cross the street” came from his brother.
He said: “It represents the insecure feeling that some young black men feel when walking down the street. There’s a sense that white people have tended to cross the street when they see a young black male approaching. This is largely due to the negative gang-related or thug portrayal media coverage that surrounds young black males”
Tottenham MP, David Lammy is just one of the 56 black men who have been photographed as part of the campaign. This just shows that even one of the country’s most high-profile black politicians isn’t exempt from stereotypes. There are many black men doing great things within their community, but their success becomes almost invisible from constant negative media attention.
“No black boy was born with a knife in his hand”
In an article David wrote with The guardian he stated, “No black boy was born with a knife in his hand, so at what point do we start to identify with a black man being a killer, or a black man being something violent.” For David, the project highlights the importance of not focusing on what is outside of the hood, but what is underneath it.
“It’s time to change the narrative. It’s time to change the reason why people write about us.”
Cephas is hoping to extend the campaign, to focus a light on 56 men annually. He aims to put black men at the forefront of the conversations that are being held about them. In the hopes that his future children will be comfortable in the skin they have, how they speak and the clothing they choose to wear without feeling the need to change their mannerisms or demeanour in order to make people feel more comfortable and not intimidated.
This is a campaign I’m in huge favour of, as it demonstrates the power and effectiveness of us uniting together as a community to stand against these barriers put in place to limit us. It’s important that we do no start to accept these false narratives and lies that masks us in an identity that does not represent the greatness within us.
If you want to gain a deeper understanding of the issues briefly covered here, have a read of this article:
To find out more about the campaign and to stay updated you can check out their social handles:
Twitter and Instagram: @56BlackMen
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